City Panel Approves Oak and Loc Project
5 story, 55-unit apartment building slated for busy corner, but some neighbors oppose it.
A prominent East Side intersection is slated to get a major investment under a proposed development by Michael Klein and Jeno Cataldo. The duo intend to buy and demolish a two-story building at 2900 N. Oakland Ave. and construct a five-story mixed-use building in its place. Striegel-Agacki Studio is leading the design of the project.
The building would include 55 apartments and 10,000 square-feet of commercial space under plans submitted to the city. The apartments would be a mix of studio, one- and two-bedroom units that would rent from $900 to $1,800 per month. Parking would be available for $125 to $150 per month according to Cataldo.
A zoning variance for the project was recommended for approval this afternoon by the City Plan Commission, but not before a number of area residents voiced opposition to the project for a wide variety of reasons.
But that didn’t stop about 10 project opponents from providing nearly a hour of intense testimony on Monday. They attacked everything from the building’s potential to cause crime and overwhelm the sewer system to causing traffic backups and turning the neighborhood into “Shorewood” (a bizarre euphemism for the cluster of mixed-use apartments built on N. Oakland Ave. in the nearby village).
Dettmer said the Department of Public Works had conducted a 24-hour traffic study regarding the project, and found the developer’s intent to have parking accessed off of E. Locust St. would not cause substantial backups. Under the proposed development, residents would enter parking off the alley, while commercial tenants would utilize a garage directly off E. Locust St. Dettmer noted that the DPW study showed traffic on E. Locust St. east of N. Oakland Ave. is roughly half of that west of N. Oakland Ave. and that Oakland carries substantially more traffic than Locust. Independently, DPW is working on adjustments to the turn signals to improve traffic flow in the area.
Regarding questions about water service, Dettmer noted the building wouldn’t have a great impact. The building would be connected to the much newer E. Locust St. water main, not the older N. Oakland Ave. water main that recently ruptured.
What about sewer capacity? The issue has been raised by project opponents on leaflets distributed in the surrounding neighborhood. Dettmer said the project is awaiting a waiver from the Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District for the increased water load from the site, but noted there aren’t any issues anticipated with the issuance of that waiver.
Those responses won over the commissioners, with commissioner Joaquin Altoro stating “I trust the testimony that Karen Dettmer has provided today regarding the sewer and also the traffic.”
Architect Michael Striegel noted “some of the feedback we got was the materiality of the building was too stark.” In response the design has been updated to include cream-colored brick instead of white brick. The southwest corner of the building abutting the interaction has also been rounded to create more space on the busy intersection.
Even with the changes, the project failed to garner the support of commissioner and former architecture critic Whitney Gould. The commissioner explained: “it could be a really cool building with a little more work. I’m really torn on this one, because I think that the architects have tried really strongly to address a lot of neighborhood concerns. And I think that a lot of issues that people have brought up are legitimate issues. What it really comes down is I would like to see the architects go the last mile here. I think there are some issues with the brick not wrapping around and they have tried to break up the mass and step back in the building.”
Gould had earlier asked why Striegel’s design didn’t include brick on the interior elements, instead using a bronze-colored corrugated metal panel. Striegel noted that it was something that was debated, but said cost and developer preference were an issue. “They preferred this as the design.”
The commission recommended the project for approval on a 3-2 vote, with commissioners Altoro, Patricia Najera and Larri Jacquart voting in favor. Gould and J. Allen Stokes voted against the change. Stephanie Bloomingdale was absent.
Shortly before voting, Najera stated: “I know that many of you that came and opposed this development, but I really think that the architectural team has done a wonderful job of thinking of a catalytic program for Oak and Loc. I would have to disagree with the individual that said it would attract transient individuals to the property. I really don’t think people that are paying $1,500 to $1,800 a month are transient.”
The building needs a zoning variance because the density of the proposed building exceeds that allowed on the site. The current zoning allows for up to 18 three-bedroom apartments. The developers are seeking to build 55 smaller apartments. The proposed height, 60 feet, does conform to the existing zoning for the site.
The existing building at 2900 N. Oakland Ave. is a two-story commercial building owned by Capri Oakland Property LLC and now occupied by Cousins Subs. The 4,596-square-foot building and 10,966-square-foot lot are assessed at a combined $321,000. Cousins Subs would relocate into the new building as part of the proposal.
The building would be managed by Founders 3, which manages other properties for Klein.
The project will next go before the Common Council’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee.
If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits, all detailed here.